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Five Suggestions to Fix Europe’s Migration Mess

If properly integrated, migrants can benefit our societies.

October 20, 2015

If properly integrated, migrants can benefit our societies.

Europeans are struggling with migrant flows of a magnitude unseen since the end of World War II. Once the fire fighting will be over, they will have to think about long-term solutions.

Here are some ideas they might keep in mind as they look beyond the emergency.

1. Close one border (only)

Europeans should close their borders, but the right ones. An approach that would see each country inside Europe build its own fences would harm both business and trade. Ultimately, it would kill the Schengen Agreement on the free movement of goods and people.

True, Europeans will not be able to turn their South and South-eastern porous borders into a literal “Great Wall of Europe,” as much as some hard-line politicians might wish. (That never really worked for China either.)

Still, studies by the European Commission already envision the possible establishment of a European Border and Coast Guard that could reasonably secure the southern and southeastern perimeters.

European leaders should therefore have the guts to disband national border guards and pool funding to establish a single border protection force. By doing so, they would save both their money and their borders. But that would require statesmen. Instead, Europe is stuck with politicians.

2. Strengthen the ins vs. outs dichotomy

Europe is awash with countries that want their cake and eat it too. Across the English Channel, London wishes nothing to do with Schengen, but asks for support to keep migrants out.

While enjoying the freedoms of Schengen, Denmark keeps pondering whether to opt-in from their opt-outs in justice and home affairs. Meanwhile, Bulgaria and Romania clamour for Schengen, but fail to address their corruption habits.

This is not about the usual debates about “core Europe,” “multi-speed Europe” and “variable geometries” (as fun as they might be). This is about having rights and duties going hand in hand.

There should be a greater assumption of responsibilities as well as more advantages to “going supranational.”

And there should be less of a burden with an expectation of less solidarity from European partners who stick to the old nation-state. As allowed by the Treaties, enhanced cooperation could be a way forward.

3. Do the maths on the long term

Many Europeans (including a troubling number of leaders) appear not to have answered this question: Why would any country wish to acquire a young, well-educated and ambitious workforce? Better, they seem to believe, to be stuck with an aging population, a huge public debt to GDP ratio and soon-to-become unaffordable welfare states.

And who makes it to Europe in the first place as migrants or refugees? The young, the ambitious and the well educated.

The misery of Mother Nature’s screening and selection process has already heavily weighted the scales in their favor in terms of who is arriving and who never gets to Europe to apply for asylum.

This cruel and Darwinian “survival of the fittest” should not be a substitute for the lack of a serious common European asylum policy.

A number of studies consistently come to the same conclusion: Even though financially challenging on the short term, migration is over the long term good for the economy. Or so thinks Maurice Obstfeld, chief economist at the IMF.

4. Treat them like citizens as far as possible

Together with the ludicrous assertion that migrants undermine our supposedly “Christian values,” claims that they pose a serious security threat or that they put a strain on public finances can either be refuted or adequately addressed (see above).

On the contrary and if properly integrated, migrants can benefit our societies. Proper integration over the long-term would probably consist of:

  • Migrants earning money, not just surviving on our assistance
  • Migrants paying more in taxes than they receive in government spending
  • Migrants building homes more than we build to house them
  • Migrants caring for our elderly, not just themselves being cared for by our states

And while giving them free education, we shall learn from them. Efforts should be adjusted to the specific circumstances, but the bottom line should be always the same: Treat them as far as possible as fellow citizens. So that they can become model ones.

5. Turn it into a PR opportunity

Once they have taken in more asylum seekers than anybody else in the industrialized world Europeans should congratulate themselves.

The European Union has (more than) one image problem. Its allies think Brussels is the second politically most dysfunctional place in the world after Washington.

Its enemies do not even bother with Machiavelli’s old rule of divide and conquer because Europeans do the job for them.

And its own citizens think the whole European integration thing is terribly dull (clearly not grasping how sexy the set of rules and regulations knows as the EU acquis communautaire can be).

European elites should therefore go on the offensive and proudly advertise their efforts to welcome asylum seekers from all over the globe. After all, we all love the Scandinavians.


European leaders should disband national border guards and fund a single border protection force.

Instead of giving the migrants money, we should ask them to earn money.

Instead of subsidizing migrants’ existences with our taxes, we should ask them to pay taxes.

Instead of housing migrants, we should ask them to build our homes.

Instead of caring for them, we should ask migrants to care for our elderly.